Fox News' Wind Power Hypochondria

Fox News is using a Massachusetts town to suggest that wind turbines cause “devastating” health problems. However, multiple studies have found no evidence that wind turbines are associated with health problems.

In late January, two wind turbines built in Falmouth, Massachusetts, were targeted for removal due to noise and supposedly related health concerns sometimes referred to as "wind turbine syndrome." Tuesday, Fox News' America's Newsroom covered the local community's upcoming decision, saying that residents claim to have experienced “devastating” health impacts:

But Fox News failed to note that “wind turbine syndrome” has not been substantiated. A 2012 panel of independent physicians and scientists convened by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection concluded “There is no evidence for a set of health effects from exposure to wind turbines” and “limited” evidence connecting wind turbines to annoyance or sleep disruption. Simon Chapman, a professor of public health, has noted that “wind turbine syndrome” may well be “what we can call a 'communicated' disease: it spreads via the nocebo effect by being talked about, and is thereby a strong candidate for being defined as a psychogenic condition [a condition that originates psychologically]." The Colbert Report first noted Chapman's comments in an investigation mocking “wind turbine syndrome.” 

The Falmouth turbines were older models that may have developed problems from lying in storage that led them to be particularly noisy, limiting the local story's implications for the national surge in wind installations.

Fox News also mentioned that Falmouth residents were concerned about wind turbines lowering property values. But the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs' states that “There are no data or rigorous analysis that show a significant negative impact of wind installations on property values” and “some indications that wind turbines can be tourist attractions.” Indeed, a 2009 study of the sales of almost 7,500 homes by the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that “neither the view of the wind facilities nor the distance of the home to those facilities is found to have any consistent, measurable, and statistically significant effect on home sales prices.”

Meanwhile, those living near one alternative to wind turbines -- coal plants -- face serious health risks. According to a 2009 study by Physicians for Social Responsibility, “Coal combustion contributes to diseases already affecting large portions of the U.S. population, including asthma, heart disease, and stroke.” A scientific report commissioned by the American Lung Association also found that coal emissions increase the risk of cancer and cause cognitive damage. A report by the NAACP noted that the six million people who live within three miles of the 378 coal plants in America are disproportionately poor people of color. Yet Fox News has decried efforts to regulate the coal industry as a “war on coal.”

Shauna Theel contributed to this report.